November 22, 2011

Throw Out Your Leftovers Day

Nan Jensen RD, LD/N Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences, Pinellas County Extension

There are a number of “food, nutrition and health days, weeks and months” to celebrate throughout the year. There is a day for eating red apples, chocolates, guacamole, and cookies, a month for eating ice cream and one for bringing awareness about diabetes and heart disease. Mark November 29 on your calendar and get ready to recognize “Throw Out Your Leftovers Day”. That is the day you need to throw away whatever is left over in the frig from the Thanksgiving feast. And “some” leftovers should be eaten or thrown away even earlier than that. 

Leftovers can become dangerous to eat if they are not handled and stored properly. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that more than a half million cases of foodborne illness are caused each year just from improperly handled turkey leftovers. Foodborne illness (food poisoning) can strike anyone but young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, older adults, and persons with weak immune systems are especially vilnerable. Handling leftovers safely is one way to prevent bacteria from multiplying and causing foodborne illness. 

To begin, put all leftovers away promptly. Remember the 2-Hour Rule Bacteria grow rapidly between 40 and 140 °F. Discard all perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and casseroles, left at room temperature longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90 °F. Cool any leftovers quickly in small shallow, airtight containers. Hot food left in larger, deeper containers can take a long time to cool. Putting leftovers in small, shallow containers allows the cold air to circulate around the containers to cool all of it more quickly. Again, the longer food remains warm, the greater the growth of potentially harmful bacteria. 

The following is a list of selected cooked leftovers and recommended refrigerator storage time. Consider freezing these foods if you want to keep them longer. 
  • Gravy and meat broth- 1 to 2 days 
  •  Cooked meat and meat dishes- 3 to 4 days 
  •  Cooked turkey and poultry dishes- 3 to 4 days 
  •  Cooked vegetables- 3 to 4 days 
Other food safety tips

  • Always wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Remove turkey from the bone and store it separately from the stuffing and gravy. Sliced breast meat, legs and wings can be left whole.
  • Use an appliance thermometer to ensure that your refrigerator is always 40° F or below.
  • Leftovers should be reheated to an internal temperature of at least 165° F.  Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature.  Sauces, soups, and gravies should be reheated by bringing them to a boil.

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